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Fantastic Fest 2014: ‘ABCs of Death 2’ is always watchable but rarely memorable

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ABCs of Death 2 
Directed by Larry Fessenden, Todd Rohal, Marvin Kren , Jim Hosking, Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo, Julian Gilbey, Soichi Umezawa, Lancelot Imasuen, Jerome Sable, Robert Boocheck, Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado, Bill Plympton, Rodney Ascher, Erik Matti, Steven Kostanski, E.L. Katz, Julian Barratt, Hajime Ohata, Vincenzo Natali, Chris Nash, Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska, Robert Morgan, Kristina Buožytė, Bruno Samper, Alejandro Brugués, Dennison Ramalho, Juan Martínez Moreno
USA/New Zealand/Canada/Israel/Japan, 2014

It seems only natural for an expansive anthology like ABCs of Death 2 to offer up such a mixed bag
of short films. There are 26 in total, each running for approximately four to five minutes. Such the-abcs-of-death-2-stills-3time constraints act as a hindrance to many of the directors involved in the project. A large number of the shorts are either underdeveloped or conventional in terms of their story. However, there are a handful of standouts that make the viewing experience worthwhile.

The primary issue with many of the shorts is a lack of originality. The director will take a standard premise and simply fill it with as much shock value as can be squeezed into a four-minute time frame. “A is for Amateur,” for example, focuses on an assassin as he attempts to crawl through an air vent in order to reach his target. The vent is filled with an array of dangerous or revolting obstacles: scuttling insects, protruding nails, and expansive cobwebs. The assassin encounters all of these hindrances in the most disgusting manner possible, with the director’s goal being to manipulate the audience into squirming restlessly in their seats. Such an approach is used in many of the other films, and while it is not wholly ineffective, these shorts never rise above their feeble premise; they are watchable but also quite forgettable.

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The best of the short films are able to combine creativity with an emotional complexity. One notable entry is “J is for Jesus,” which incorporates the supernatural in its story about a gay man who is given a harsh form of reparative therapy by his father. The story is filled with high levels of anger and sadness that give the film an invigorating energy. “Y for Youth,” which may be the greatest of all the shorts, is another emotionally charged tale. A teenage girl is angered by her parents’ neglect, and she enacts her revenge in a angst-filled sequence that involves her mother getting attacked by a giant phallus and her stepfather regurgitating his guitar.

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Though it boasts only a few genuine successes, ABCs of Death 2 is by no means a failure. There are enough frightful, funny, or intriguing moments throughout the anthology to keep it moving at a breezy pace. The end result for a majority of the films is middling at best, but for every group of shorts that misses the mark, there is one that is capable of exceeding it.

– Jacob Carter

Visit the official website of Fantastic Fest.


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